By April 9, 2008 Read More →

The Crusader Kingdom 1099-1187, Teddy Kollek and Moshe Pearlman, Jerusalem: Sacred City of Mankind, Steimatzky Ltd., Jerusalem, 1991.

jerusalem-crusadersOn Friday July 15, 1099, dawn broke over Jerusalem to a fearsome sight and sound. Close to the Gate of Flowers (the present-day Herod’s Gate) in the north wall, the soldiers of the Crusader leader Godfrey de Bouillon, Duke of Lorraine, were wheeling a huge siege tower across the ditch to bring it close to the ramparts. It was made of wood and protected by a covering of ox-hide and camel-hide. The Saracen defenders were trying to keep them off with stones and liquid fire (“Greek fire,” an inflammable substance projected through tubes, the earliest form of flame-thrower). But the Crusaders were proving more effective with their mangonels—devices for casting stones.

Three hundred yards away, also at the north wall, near the Gate of the Column (today’s Damascus Gate), Robert of Flanders, one of Godfrey’s commanders, was doing the same thing with his siege tower—putting in a diversionary attack.

At the same time, a third Crusader prince, Raymond of Toulouse, operating from Mount Zion (which was again outside the city), was trying to take the southern wall. He had succeeded on the previous evening in getting this tower up against the wall, but the defenses were too fierce for exploitation. Now, with the Crusaders in attacking positions on the north and the south, the defending forces inside the city had to be split to meet the triple threat.

The Crusader assault had been launched a day and a half earlier. It followed a forty-day siege, interspersed with desultory battle, and Friday the fifteenth was the crucial day.

By noon, Godfrey succeeded in bridging the wall from the top of his tower and a few of his men crossed and held it. Scaling ladders were quickly brought up and more men clambered into the city. The defenders in this sector retreated to the nearby Temple area, but before they had time to prepare it for a last ditch stand, the Crusaders were upon them and they surrendered. The Crusader banner was hoisted over the Dome of the Rock and the Mosque of El-Aksa.

The Fatimid governor of the city, Iftikhar, was personally commanding the defenses on the southern sector, and keeping Raymond’s force at bay. Now there came rushing to him the confused inhabitants and the surviving units who had retreated from the northern wall. He could see the banners with the cross fluttering from the Hara mesh-Sharif. He knew it was all over.

Withdrawing into the former Palace of Herod (the citadel near “David’s Tower” at the Jaffa Gate), he offered to surrender to Raymond, promising a large treasure for the lives of himself and his bodyguard. The offer was accepted.

Iftikhar and his men were among the few to survive. The Crusaders went on a rampage through Jerusalem, killing all whom they encountered, Moslems and Jews. (Before the siege, when news of the approach of the Crusaders had reached Iftikhar, he had ordered all Christians to leave.) The remaining Jews sought refuge on this Sabbath eve in their central synagogue. The Crusaders set fire to the building and all perished.

Two days later, the Crusading princes marched in procession through a deserted Jerusalem to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, there to give thanks to God for their victory. The Christian quarter was, of course empty and there was no one in the other quarters, for the Moslems and Jews had been slain.

Godfrey de Bouillon became the secular and military ruler, with the title of Defender of the Holy Sepulchre. There was too much rivalry between the Crusader leaders at that time for them to agree that one should hold the title of king. But a year later, with Godfrey’s death, his brother Baldwin was offered the throne, and on November 11, 1100 he became King Baldwin I, the first head of the Crusader kingdom of Jerusalem. This kingdom was to last eighty-seven years. Neither Jew nor Moslem was allowed to dwell within the walls of the city.

It was the Church Council in Clermont (France) in November 1095 which launched the First Crusade. The Council had been summoned by Pope Urban II, the prime mover in the Crusade, and there he had preached the merit and glory of the deliverance of the Holy Land. What he and the princes planned, and what they eventually carried out, was a carefully directed invasion by picked men. But what immediately followed the Clermont decision was the undisciplined march across Europe of hundreds of thousands of “thoughtless and needy plebeians,” as Gibbon records in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, spreading ruin and massacring Jews en route. They were roused by such mob orators as Peter the Hermit (Peter of Picardy), a volatile pilgrim who had been maltreated by the Moslems in Jerusalem and who had returned to the west to stir Christendom against the infidel. Flocking behind Peter and others including “another fanatic, the monk Godescal,” went 300,000, according to Gibbon’s estimate, “the most stupid and savage refuse of the people, who mingled with their devotion a brutal license of rapine, prostitution, and drunkenness.

As they moved through Europe, says Gibbon, this huge rabble undertook “the first and most easy warfare…against the Jews…in the trading cities of the Moselle and the Rhine… At Verdun, Treves, Metz, Worms, many thousands of that unhappy people were pillaged and massacred, nor had they felt a more bloody stroke since the persecution of Hadrian.”

With the Crusader kingdom, Jerusalem again became the capital—for the first time since the Jews were sovereign in the land. For the thousand years that followed its destruction by Titus, Jerusalem had been relegated by its rulers to the status of a provincial town. It was now, under the Crusaders, again the center, again a fount of international interest.

Crusader administration followed the feudal pattern. Land in the city—and in the entire territory of the kingdom—was allocated to the Church, which inspired the movement, the European knights, who did the fighting, and the merchants, notably of Italy, who supplied the fleets. Later, considerable holdings were granted to the two powerful military orders of Crusaders, the Templars and the Hospitallers (Knights of St. John). (There was subsequently a third order, the Teutonic Knights.) The representative of the Pope was the Latin Patriarch, and his power rivaled that of the king.

The shape of the city was much as it was in Roman times, with Mount Zion again outside the walls. Inside, there was a feverish drive to erect ecclesiastical buildings of every kind, churches and hospices, convents and monasteries, and residences for the clergy. The Church of the Holy Sepulcre received prime attention. It was completely rebuilt and given the outline that exists in large part today. The rectangular shape of Constantine’s’ edifice was changed into the form of a cross and the four shrines were united under a single roof, the rotunda of the sepulcher alone following Constantine’s design and rising on the original foundations. Further chapels and cloisters were added.

Christian structures sprang up all over the city, crowding in upon each other, but mainly in the “Patriarch’s quarter”—today’s “Christian quarter”—in the northwest and the “Armenian quarter,” as it is still called, in the southwest. Crusader establishments were also erected in what is today known as the “Jewish quarter,” in the southeast. The northeast section, today’s “Moslem quarter,” was then called, as we learn from pilgrim records, “Jewry” or the “Syrian quarter.” Several churches were built there, the most notable being the Church of St. Anne, perhaps the best preserved Crusader church in Jerusalem. In this quarter dwelt the Syrian Christians brought in by King Baldwin to populate Jerusalem, and to them were added other Christian groups who had come from neighboring Moslem countries.

What Jerusalem looked like during the Crusader period is known to us largely from the lively report of an unknown pilgrim entitled “La Citez de Jherusalem.” The city had “four Master Gates,” and he starts his account with the first two, east and west, and the city between. “The Gate of David is towards the west [today’s Jaffa Gate]. And it is exactly opposite the Golden Gate, which is towards the east, behind the Templum Domini.”

This Golden Gate, a magnificent double-arched structure in the east city wall (which is also the east wall of the Temple compound), may still be seen. It may have been the original “Gate Beautiful” of Herod’s time, the sound of the Greek word for beautiful, oraia, having been retained in the Latin by aurea, which means golden. The present construction is Byzantine. An early Jewish tradition holds that it is through this gate that the Messiah will enter Jerusalem. According to Christian tradition, Jesus came into Jerusalem this way. In Crusader times, it was opened twice a year, on Palm Sunday and on the feast commemorating the “Finding of the Cross” in the fourth century. Moslems held that this was the gate of judgment referred to in the Koran (Surah 57, verse 13), “the inner side whereof containeth mercy, while the outer side thereof is toward its doom.” The blocking in of the Golden Gate from the outside—it may still be entered from the Temple compound—is ascribed by some to Saladin in the twelfth century and by others to Suleiman the Magnificent in the sixteenth. Whoever it was did it for security reasons, but it is a Moslem belief that it was done either to prevent the entry of the liberating Jewish Messiah or to ensure that the gate would have no “outer side…toward the doom” on Judgment Day.

The anonymous pilgrim of Crusader days now takes us inside the Gate of David and

“when you come to the Exchange where the David street ends there is a street called Mount Zion street, for it goes straight to Mount Zion; and on the left of the Exchange is a covered street, vaulted over, called the Street of Herbs, where they sell all the herbs, and all the fruits of the city, and spices.

“At the top of this street is a place where they sell fish. And behind the Market where they sell the fish, is a very large Place on the left hand where cheese, chicken and eggs are sold. On the right hand of this Market are the shops of the Syrian gold-workers…Before the Exchange, close to the Streets of Herbs, is a street which they call Mal-quisinat [bad cooking]. In this street they cooked food for the pilgrims…”

The Via Dolorosa had not yet been given this name when our pilgrim wrote. But we get a clue to its origin in the description of the area, for we learn that what is known today as the Arch of Ecce Homo was called the Gate Dolorous in Crusader times.

Just how thick was the cluster of ecclesiastical buildings in Crusader Jerusalem is indicated in the final words of the pilgrim-author-

“Now I have spoken of the abbeys and monasteries of Jerusalem… but I have not named the monasteries and churches of the Syrians, nor of the Greeks, Jacobins, Boamins [Georgians], Nestorians, nor Armenians, nor of the other people who rendered no obeisance to Rome, of whom were many abbeys and churches in the city.”

In the early decades of Crusader rule, the ban on the entry into Jerusalem of a Jew was strictly enforced. By the middle of the twelfth century, there seems to have been a very slight relaxation, a few prominent overseas Jews, like the great Maimonides, being allowed to pay a visit, and a small number of families being permitted to settle—possibly for their needed skill in dyeing. They were seen by Benjamin of Tudela, one of the greatest travelers of the Middle Ages, who visited Jerusalem shortly after the year 1167. This Spanish Jew, usually referred to as Rabbi Benjamin, found Jerusalem “a small city strongly fortified with three walls. The dyeing house is rented by the year, and the exclusive privilege of dyeing is purchased from the king by the Jews of Jerusalem, two hundred of whom dwell in one corner of the city, under the Tower of David.”

Dyeing seems to have been a major occupation of the decimated Jewish community in Palestine at the time; Rabbi Benjamin came across similar small groups of experts in other centers.

He makes no mention of any synagogue in Jerusalem. The Jews there worshipped at the Western (“Wailing”) Wall, which the visitor said “is called the Gate of Mercy, and all Jews resort thither to say their prayers.” (Later Jewish pilgrims, describing the Golden Gate, called that the Gate of Mercy, and it is still known by this name in Hebrew.)

Small as this Jewish group was, it seems to have dwindled almost as fast as it appeared, for when another Jewish traveler, Rabbi Petachia of Ratisbon (Regensburg, Germany), visited Jerusalem some fifteen years later, he found that “the only Jew there is Reb Abraham, the dyer, and he pays a heavy tax to the king to be permitted to remain there.”

The Crusaders lost Jerusalem in 1187, after the decisive defeat of their armies at the celebrated battle of the Horns of Hattin, near the Sea of Galilee, by the brilliant military and political leader Salah ad-Din, known to the western world as Saladin.

Saladin (1138-93), an Armenian Kurd by race and a Moslem by faith, founder of the Ayyubid dynasty, was brought up in Damascus, where his father, Ayyub, was Governor. He was thus educated in what was then the principal center of Moslem learning, and absorbed the best traditions of Moslem culture. As a young man, he served as aide to his uncle, who had made himself vizier of Egypt. Saladin succeeded him, and within a few years extended his rule over Syria. By the year 1186, he was in control, either by conquest or negation, of all the territory which enclosed the Crusader kingdom.

A few months later, an undisciplined Crusader, Reynald of Chatillon, broke a four years’ truce which provoked a Moslem reaction. The whole military strength of the Crusaders was then flung into action in Galilee on the foolish order of the inexperienced Crusader king, Guy de Lusignan, and on July 4, 1187 was virtually annihilated. The cities and castles of the kingdom lay open to Saladin. On September 20, his forces appeared before the walls of Jerusalem. The city surrendered twelve days later.

Saladin behaved with the utmost chivalry and generosity, granting clemency to the Christian inhabitants and sparing the churches—in stark contrast to the actions of the Crusaders upon their capture of the city eighty-eight years earlier. He did, however, resume possession of the Temple Mount—the Haram esh-Sharif with its Dome of the Rock and Mosque of El-Aksa, which he purified with rose-water and restored to their former state.

The Crusaders had lost Jerusalem, but they still retained a coastal stronghold in the north. This they succeeded in developing by commanding navies, which Saladin lacked. They were thus able to receive reinforcements from the west, and the men of the Third Crusade, under King Philip of France and King Richard the Lion-Heart of England, helped them capture Acre in 1191. From there they were to continue to rule a truncated kingdom for another hundred years.

King Richard, in the fifteen months he spent in the country, took several coastal and other cities, and tried to re-take Jerusalem—even though Saladin continued to allow Christian pilgrimage. But here he was unsuccessful. In September 1192, acknowledging his impotence, the Crusader king signed a treaty with Saladin on the basis of the status quo. The coastline was left to the Crusaders as far south as Jaffa; Christians were free to visit Jerusalem’s Holy Places; and Moslems and Christians could pass through each other’s lands.

Richard returned to Europe, and Saladin to Damascus (where he died in the following spring). For all its holiness, Jerusalem, to Moslem Saladin, was no more than a provincial centre.

With Saladin’s conquest, the Jews were once more officially allowed to settle in Jerusalem, and this policy was continued by his successors. Within a short time, there was again a Jewish community in the Holy City, though we have no record of their numbers in the early period. It must have been very small, and as impoverished as the other inhabitants of Jerusalem at the time. There is a brief reference to them in the “Itinerary” of a certain Rabbi Samuel ben Samson who made the pilgrimage some twenty years later, in 1210. “We arrived at Jerusalem by the western end of the city, rending our garments on beholding it, as it has been ordained we should do”—as a sign of morning for the destruction of the Temple. Near the Temple Mount, “we said our prayers twice with a minyan [a religious quorum of at least ten Jews]…”

A year later saw the arrival of three hundred rabbis and scholars from France and England who came to settle in the country and greatly enriched Jewish cultural life. The records are thin for the next fifty years, but in 1267 there arrived in Jerusalem one of the most important scholars of his age, a Jew from Spain named Rabbi Moshe ben Nahman, better known as Nachmanides. He it was who revived the Jewish congregation of Jerusalem, established a center of Jewish learning, and reconstructed a synagogue which bore his name ever after.

In the decades before his arrival, however, there had been several changes in the status of Jerusalem. Forty-two years after the Crusaders had lost the city to Saladin, they recovered it—not by conquest but by gift. Saladin’s empire had been divided among his sons, none of whom had inherited his genius, and friction led to frequent conflict between the Syrian and Egyptian branches of the dynasty. Neither was above soliciting Crusader help against the other, and in 1229 the Egyptian sultan al-Kamil, then at war with his nephew al-Nasir of Damascus, offered to the emperor Frederick II of Germany, in return for an alliance, what was a bauble to himself but a glittering prize to the emperor—Jerusalem.

The Crusader leaders who remained behind were not as wise as he. They quarreled among themselves and often took opposing sides in the perennial disputes between Cairo and Damascus. In 1244, following one such intervention, an army of nomad Khwarizmian Turks from central Asia, in the pay of Sultan Ayyub (al-Salih) of Egypt captured Jerusalem, pillaged and massacred, and sacked the city. Not for almost seven centuries was it to be governed again by Christians.

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